By Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Just before Violet Stoner dies, she grabs her sister Enid (Jessie Wray Goodman) and chokes out her two final words, “band” and “speckled,” in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s play, “The Speckled Band: An Adventure of Sherlock Holmes.”
The young lady died under mysterious circumstances just prior to her engagement to Scott Wilson (Ethan Saks). An investigation of her death yields inconclusive results, though the town grocer, Mr. Armitage (Wali Jamal) suspects that she was murdered by the lord of the Stoke Manor, Dr. Grimesby Rylott (Sam Tsoutsouvas).
Though Rylott is a cruel man, Enid is hesitant to believe that her stepfather, Rylott, is capable of murder. She does, however, report to the Coroner (Martin Giles) that she heard strange music the night Violet died.
Two years later, Enid is now engaged and the strange music begins again. She believes she will suffer a similar fate. She calls upon her friend Dr. John Watson (James FitzGerald) for aid. Watson believes he can help her, because he, in turn, has a friend who might be able to get to the bottom of the mystery. Any mystery! A man named Sherlock Holmes (David Whalen).
Dunt dunt da!
Rylott seeks to keep Enid from marrying. He is aided by his valet, Ali (Arjun Kumar), his maid, Mrs. Staunton (Lisa Ann Goldsmith), and, unwittingly, his doddering butler Rodgers (David Crawford).
The killer’s identity is crystal clear by the end of the first act. We don’t need Sherlock to solve this mystery. Heck, Scooby Doo could have figured it out without the help of Shaggy, Velma, Daphne or Freddie. But “The Speckled Band” isn’t really a whodunit. It’s more of a “Will he do it again?”
Sherlock must outwit the villain to save Enid in time. It’s a nail-biter more than it’s a mystery. The game is afoot!
Director Andrew Paul assembles an outstanding local cast, and brings back Pittsburgh’s favorite Sherlock, David Whalen (a former native now living in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina). Paul moves the actors around the stage organically. The actors move with purpose and intent.
Tsoutsouvas chews up Johnmichael Bohach’s stately scenery. He rails against Enid, bullies his butler and threatens Sherlock. It’s a grand performance.
Goodman is so charismatic as the girl in peril. Her accent equally charming thanks to dialect coach, Lisa Ann Goldsmith.
Whalen is Sherlock. He’s reprised the role so many times, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else under the deerstalker hat. He thrives, playing the iconic detective masterfully, with a bounty of brilliance and soupcon of arrogance, relishing every moment.
FitzGerald is once again his foil, Watson. Watson would be the smartest man in the room, until Sherlock enters the scene. It’s a joy to watch Watson get outwitted by his friend, every single time. Whalen and FitzGerald’s chemistry is delightful.
Crawford is hilarious as the bumbling butler.
Giles takes on two disparate parts, the Coroner and a Milverton, a slimy blackmailer. He is amazing in both roles. Giles is some sort of mad genius who is at his peak when he immerses himself into crazed characters.
Other standouts include Jamal’s Armitage, Goldsmith’s smug and imperious maid, and Sherlock’s new major domo, Billy (R. Daniel Murphy).
If you’re going for the sake of solving a perplexing, Sherlockian mystery, you will be a little disappointed. But if you’re going because you want to see a bunch of Pittsburgh’s best and brightest actors romping through a suspenseful tale of greed and murder, get a ticket right away!
“The Speckled Band: An Adventure of Sherlock Holmes” runs through June 30th at the Charity Randall Theater inside the Stephen Foster Memorial, 4301 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here.